He helped found the latest junior hockey venture at the Shore in thew New Jersey 87’s and now he has his sites set on impacting the local high school hockey landscape.
As well as holding the reins of the 87’s team — an expansion club competing at Middletown Ice World as part the newly minted Eastern Hockey League’s Premier Division — Houli recently announced that he had accepted the head coaching position for the Manasquan/Point Pleasant Beach cooperative for the forthcoming 2017-18 season.
“I have a passion for player development, but for me, this is a great opportunity and a great step forward in my development as a coach,” said Houli, a native of Howell.
“I helped start the 87’s organization this year, but I’ve always felt that urge to get back into the high school game, and specifically the Shore Conference,” Houli added. “I’ve seen this conference ramp up it’s quality of play the last few years. It’s a conference that is getting stronger and stronger each season. And I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
Houli’s excitement for the Manasquan position is two-fold, as he’ll enter the season with a roster full of talent and — for the first time since 2011, when the program finished 16-6-4 and won the Shore C Division Championship — an opportunity to help the Warriors regain their stature as a top program in the conference…and he credits Jim Fagen for setting a strong foundation to build upon.
“I have to give Jim a lot of credit for bringing this group along and preparing them as well as he did to take a big step forward this year…He’s really made it seamless for me to step in,” Houli said of the Warriors previous head man Jim Fagen, who succeeded Jim Dowd behind the Warriors bench in 2015-16 and helped the program to an 8-10-1 mark a season ago.
“I think Jim and I both recognized what this team can really do,” said Houli, who competed at the NCAA level with Trinity College from 2008-2011, and captain the club in his senior year. “And he wanted someone at the top that could step in right away and fine tune things. It shows how much of a leader he really is.”
Fagen also served as Manasquan’s head coach from 2008-2011, and led the Warriors to consecutive state tournament appearances in his final two years of that stint…a level Houli believes this group can reach in the upcoming campaign.
“It’s not just that I believe this team can be at the top of the Shore from Day 1…the kids believe that too, and they’re willing to put in the work to prove that, to prove themselves.”
Manasquan finished with a record of 5-3-0 inside the Class B Central division last year, but have plenty of talent set to return in the new year.
Nick Ventura broke out in a big way a season ago, finishing his junior campaign as one of just 12 Shore Conference skaters to surpass the 50-point, as the senior centerman and assistant captain finished with 28 goals and 22 assists.
Ventura worked well alongside emerging point-producers like Aidan Tolnai (15g, 8a) and James Conte (6g, 10a), who will be back in the mix for their junior seasons.
Manasquan will also feature a pair of standout defenders in Conor Murray (7g, 17a), who was also named an assistant captain in 2016-17, and a burgeoning star in Luke McNamara (5g, 15a), who will be back on the blue line for as a sophomore this season.